Smart transmission technologies

While most people identify the term Smart Grids with the new smart meters they may have in their homes, the real implications are far more vast and complex

While the great energy debate unfolds over the extraction, transportation and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, the electricity sector has been quietly revolu­tionized by the introduction of smart grids. While most people identify the term with the new smart meters they may have in their homes, the real implications are far more vast and complex.

The term “smart grid” emerged approximately 8 to 10 years ago, but for many people the term became synonymous with smart meters since these represent the primary touch point between re­tail power customers and the smart grid. This perception was validated in the US when the largest portion of the Department of Energy Smart Grid Investment Grants went to Advanced Metering Infrastructure projects and in Canada when Ontario implement­ed smart meters across the province.

However, smart grid technologies extend well beyond metering to in­clude a wide range of hardware and software both in high voltage trans­mission systems and local distribu­tion networks. The Electric Power Research Institute and the US Department of Energy have reported that smart grid investments generate posi­tive economic benefits, and utilities are moving forward with investments at both the transmission and distribu­tion levels. The challenge lies not in the maturity of these technologies but in the policies that govern cost recov­ery for smart grid investments.

Today, investment in smart meters continues, but utilities are also investing in other as­pects of smart grids to improve opera­tional effectiveness. At the transmis­sion level, these include:

̶    High-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems for bulk transport of electricity over long distances with minimal losses

̶    Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS), which are a family of power electronics devices capable of improving efficiency and in­creasing the capacity of existing lines

̶    Wide-area monitoring systems that provide real-time information on grid conditions

̶    Enhanced grid control systems and improved sensor technology that enable greater automation of grid operations that improves both reliability and efficiency

One important aspect of these tech­nologies is how they facilitate the integration of renewable generation sources into the transmission system. HVDC can efficiently deliver energy over long distances from remotely located or off-shore renewable gen­eration. FACTS can stabilize AC trans­mission lines to smooth the inherent variability of wind and solar installa­tions. These capabilities are essential to the long-term viability of renew­able power.

So while smart meters may have started the smart grid ball rolling, the concept is much more complex, with a much broader technology scope, and endless possibilities for benefits to utilities and consumers.

I look forward to seeing you at the IEEE PES T&D Conference and Exhibition is Chicago on April 14-17, 2014 to continue this and other discussions on the energy future.

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About the author

Gary Rackliffe

Hello, I lead Smart Grid Development for ABB North America. I have more than 25 years of industry experience in both transmission and distribution (T&D) and have worked with ABB for 19 years across a variety of positions. I hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electric power engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an MBA degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
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